State BOE rejects private school classification proposal before public comment period

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A proposal from school principals and athletic directors to make a separate class for sports for eight private schools in West Virginia was rejected by the state Board of Education Thursday on a 6-1 vote.

Board members chose a rarely used option and decided to vote the proposed rule down before it went out for a 30-day comment period.

Bernie Dolan

West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan brought 28 proposed rule changes to the board covering various sports with the most controversial one being the private school classification proposal. The state Board rejected it and put the other 27 out for the comment period. Votes are expected on those proposals in July.

Dolan told the state board the SSAC’s legal counsel advised the SSAC Board of Control voters (principals and athletic directors) there were legal issues with the proposal, but it passed anyway in a vote earlier this spring, 100-24.

“They want to put them in their own class, personally I spoke against it,” Dolan told the state BOE. “I had my legal counsel come and speak against it and they still voted it in (as a proposal).”

State Department of Education General Counsel Heather Hutchens told the state Board Thursday there are possible legal ramifications with the proposal.

“This rule would only affect eight schools, there would only be eight schools in the classification and all of those schools are religiously-affiliated schools, which I think it makes it certainly look as though we are treating them differently because of that even if that wasn’t the intention,” Hutchens said.

Steve Paine

State School Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine said he had spoken to some principals who knew the proposal would have a difficult time gaining approval.

“They don’t expect you to approve it. They expect it to go down,” Paine told the board before the vote. “I don’t know why they brought it up.”

The motion to reject was made by board member Debra Sullivan, who retired as the principal at Charleston Catholic High School in 2014 after 28 years in the position. She was appointed to the state board by Gov. Jim Justice last year. Sullivan urged Dolan and the SSAC to explore other reclassification options in the years to come. Dolan told her there’s a meeting scheduled in the near future to on that topic.

“I’m sure the schools across the state are glad you are considering other ways,” she said. “This system has been in place a long, long time and I’m sure there are other models that you are discovering.”

Those at Single A schools have expressed concern for years about the difficult time they have competing with private schools. The schools annually dominate the SSAC’s championship events.

“In my mind, it’s not a public vs. private issue,” Dolan told MetroNews last month. “It’s an urban vs. rural issue. All of our private schools are in big cities and have access to a lot more things – they have some advantages over some of our smaller public schools who are out in the country.”

Debra Sullivan

Paine told the state BOE members Thursday Dolan is in a “precarious situation” because he has member schools that come up with proposals but it’s the state School Board that has the final decision on SSAC rules.

“Sometimes they (SSAC member schools) think they should be the law of the land but that section of code indicates that ultimate approval of their rules rests with the state Board of Education,” Paine said.

Dolan said all of the schools, including the eight private schools, were brought into the SSAC as full members with no restrictions at the time of entry.

“Therefore I think it would be wrong to change the rules midstream,” he said.

Hutchens repeated not treating schools equally could present legal problems.

“There is language in the code that references all member schools are to be treated equally so I think we could have a little bit of legal issue with that too because we pull these schools out because they are private schools and treat them differently,” she said.

The 27 other proposed SSAC rule changes are going out for a 30-day comment period including a recommendation that would give schools an option, per sport, to compete in one class above its designated classification from the SSAC – it would be for a four-year period.

The current rule obligates every sport at a particular school to compete at a classification higher if the school would make that choice to move up.


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